Monday, December 10, 2012

Postcards from Kashmir - I

“Gar firdaus bar-rue zamin ast, hami asto, hamin asto, hamin ast.” 
(If there is ever a heaven on earth, it is here, it is here, it is here.)

~ Emperor Jahangir during his visit to Kashmir in the 17th century



A sublime world, barricaded by timelessness. The centuries-old yet still breathtaking Mughal gardens will vouch for that. The restless stride of the clock ceases to exist in the valley. The dreamily skimming shikara on the calm waters of the lakes is a testimonial to that. The coming together of a bygone era with its proud remnants of old, dilapidated mosques and a modern water-old chockablock with houseboats and floating bazaars. 
Kashmir - the forever fragrant land of saffron and roses; the land obsessed with its pashmina and chinar (maple); the home of the whirling sufis and the imposing Himalayas. Like the very atoms of breath, every inch of the place is soaked in an enduring, ethereal poetry. Such was my joy on finally reaching the much-fabled paradise, that my heart swelled with a desperate, greedy thrill - as if there was no tomorrow; as if I needed to live every single moment to the brim then and there; as if I had a million tiny hearts throbbing inside me, all at once.

Then there are the unforgettable lessons Kashmir offers - the robust mountains tower you, till the remaining shreds of conceit and worldliness inside you leave for good, humbling you forever; the deep lakes, those serene pools of wisdom, inspire the good in you; and, the surviving fragments of an old world narrates countless tales of perseverance. But the most profound messages swim in the eyes of the Kashmiri people, who, with their warm, maple-hued gestures tug at your heart long after you have left the valley. Be it our extremely well-read, Rumi-quoting, warm cottage owner who, very gladly takes it upon himself to show us around the remote, crumbling pockets of old Srinagar and quite abruptly breaks into a perfect rendition of "Annie's Song" on the way; or, be it the ever-smiling taxi driver from a village who insists upon us having tea at his place which happened to be on our way up to a local vista point; or, be it our concerned houseboat manager who calls us long after we've reached Hyderabad, only to make sure if we reached home safely.

For a land so ruthlessly torn with strife and its people so relentlessly bruised by an eternal, meaningless territorial conflict, to us city dwellers to have arrived from the complacent comforts of our cocooned lives, Kashmir was a lesson in silence. Of the resilience, the stoicism, and the everyday war with oneself to keep the hunger for life alive. 
















An early flower seller rows away into the morning gold. The chrysanthemum-laden boat. Rows of neatly stacked houseboats on the ever placid Nigeen lake. The breathtaking Shalimar Bagh and its legendary roses - the quintessential 'Kashmir ki kali' (the blossom of Kashmir). The remnants of a resplendent valley autumn. A tour of the senses with the hypnotic rogan joshKahwah, the traditional Kashmiri tea - the fragrant wonder that cardamom, cinnamon and a few strands of saffron could do to your regular green tea. Srinagar, a surreal water-world from its topmost perch. The old city, where the Jamia Masjid stands proudly and quiet flows by the river Jehlum. Dusk veils the valley and the tired shikaras on the swarming Dal lake call it a day. 

PS. I've taken the title from Agha Shahid Ali's poem 'Postcard from Kashmir', a piece of nostalgia that has stayed very close to my heart over the years. More about it, the mountains and Kashmir's rural face in the next post. 


17 comments:

  1. Dear Suman. Your words are beautiful and the pictures are amazing!! A land of saffron and roses : that makes me dream and travel ....

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    1. Oh, Kashmir is a dreamland for sure. You must visit it, and knowing your passion for travel and nature, I'm pretty sure you too will fall in love with the place.

      Many thanks for the beautiful compliment.

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  2. pic are superb when u went for vacation ?

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    Replies
    1. Thanks bro! Had been there in the last week of November..

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  3. lovely, lovely pics, as usual, and words to match .. also, looks like you found your fall again !

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    Replies
    1. Ha! Yes, I fell right into the fall! :-)

      I am glad you like the pictures, thank you.

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  4. beautifuuuuuuul post suman,visit mine blog too,i have a trip for u

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    Replies
    1. Thanks Sunny! Your post on the Badshahi Masjid is lovely; thanks for sharing.

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  5. Kashmir Tourism - Kashmir is a land of myriad seasons and it changes the hues of landscape with the seasons. Burgeoning with magnificent scenery, unique experience in Houseboat staying, Shikara riding, Mughal Gardens, floating vegetable Gardens and host of adventure activities.

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    Replies
    1. And we are so glad, we lived it all!

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  6. Now I would have said I was quite content on my Welsh hillside in my ancient farmhouse by the woodburner while the wind and rain blow. But you have really, really made me want to go to Kashmir. Beautiful!

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    Replies
    1. Oh, you must visit it some day. May be the next time I plan to visit Kashmir, we could trade places - I won't mind spending a day or two in your cozy shepherd's hut! :-)

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  7. How beautiful - almost dream-like. If not for your boots and bag I'd have imagined the photos were from long ago. How I'd love to visit Kashmir and see those colours, the lakes and mountains. *sigh*

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    1. They do carry a whiff of the old, old world, don't they. I'd love to go back there and spend some days, may be months, with the worry of coming back not clawing on my back constantly. And you are right, it is one bright and beautiful dream.

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